For any series to make it to a third entry is quite an achievement, especially when it’s a perennial underachiever like the Risen games. After leaning heavily into the more piratical aspects for its first sequel, developer Piranha Bytes has doubled down on this approach for Risen 3: Titan Lords, letting you once again sail the high seas, this time in search of your soul.
While out treasure hunting among native ruins, your nameless pirate encounters a mysterious crystal portal. It turns out that this gate leads to the underworld, and before you can turn and run, a Shadow Lord emerges, grabbing your booty loving adventurer, and sucking his spirit straight from his body. Losing your soul is apparently a terminal trauma, so after dropping dead from this affliction, you’re buried by your crew, so that they can resume their search for treasure.
A short time later, you’re brought back to life by Bones – a rather odd mystic with some useful voodoo skills – who tells you that he’s willing to help you get your spirit back, but to do so you’ll need to recruit a number of powerful mages for the ritual. Since this is preferable to eternal rest, you set off on your mission, soon finding that the Shadows have been causing havoc while you've been gone, and there are lots of people with fetch quests for you to do.
As you make the way through the twenty hour or so campaign, you’ll find yourself picking up a vast number of quests; some of these will get you closer to recovering your soul, while others won’t. Before you’ve even gone an hour, your quest log will be packed to the brim with things to do, but the trouble is that most of the quests are standard RPG fodder. This really is a case of quantity over quality as most of the time you’ll be sent to a location to kill creatures, or locate an item or person for the quest giver.
That’s not to say there aren’t a few quests that ask you to engage your brain a little in order to complete them, but these are so few and far between, that most of the time you’ll just be heading for the X that marks the spot. While the quests themselves might not be structurally interesting, they are at least populated with memorable characters, brought to life through some quirky voice acting. This certainly helps to liven things up, and when coupled with the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously, at least gives you some impetus for progressing through the quest chains.
The collision of a traditional fantasy setting and pirates ultimately ends up being the strongest part of the experience, and travelling across the various islands leads you to a number of interesting locations, as you get to know the various factions that inhabit the world. Whether you’re aiding the Demon Hunters as they gather their might to battle the Shadows, or visiting a tropical paradise where the natives worship their ‘Oracle’, each place that you visit provides a fresh backdrop for your adventures.
It’s a big disappointment, then, that graphically the whole thing is a complete mess, with any potential in the art design being masked by blurry textures and frequent pop in. While you can live with some of the issues, there are others that significantly diminish your enjoyment of the experience. Chief amongst these is the unstable frame rate that can drop so low – especially during some of the game's climatic battles – that it turns the action into a near slide show. In addition, there are also frequent graphical glitches that only serve to show just how unpolished the game actually is on the visual front.
The rampant poor presentation means that your first impressions are unlikely to be good, and this only gets worse when you get a chance to experience the combat for the first time. It’s tough going initially, as you'll find yourself getting killed frustratingly quickly, mainly due to your swashbuckler's lengthy attack animations providing a big window for your foes to slap you around. Even pressing the R2 button to block seems ineffective, and you’ll start to wonder just what you need to do to come out on top without getting mauled in the process. After all, too many failures and you’ll eventually find the answer is to roll with the punches, as every time that you push square to dodge, you’ll be invincible to attacks.
As a result, your battles will predominantly involve you rolling around the floor until you can find the right moment to attack. By employing this stratagem, you’ll soon realise that enemies will also focus their attacks on the person hitting them the hardest, and you can use the single crew mate that accompanies you into battle as a handy distraction, buying you more time to launch an attack. While you’ll certainly be happy to have found the secret to surviving, you’ll be disappointed that the combat’s revealed itself to be more of a chore than a fun part of the experience.
It’s not until you start to delve into the upgrade system that you start to find ways of making you character much more effective. By using the experience – or ‘glory’ as it’s called in this case – accumulated from completing quests and defeating enemies, you’re able to level up your attributes, making your privateer more and more powerful. Helpfully, the benefits of levelling up each category are welcomingly clear – unlike in some RPGs - and you’re able to see exactly which skills an increase will improve. This ensures that you can focus your upgrades in the areas that suit your play style, whether you’re heading down the path to become a master of lock picking or blades.
As well as levelling up certain attributes, you can also learn skills from a large numbers of trainers that can be found around the game world. These skills not only further enhance your character's stats, but can also provide you with additional abilities, ranging from allowing you to perform counters in combat to monkey training. As you level up and learn more abilities, you’ll slowly find yourself becoming more and more formidable, and the combat, while still challenging, starts to feel less and less one sided. This journey means that you really sense the growth of your character as you progress, and while that’s a great feeling to give the player, it's hard not to feel that the frustration that you’re forced to endure up to that point was too high a price to pay.
Things also continue to change for the better when you finally get access to magic by pledging allegiance to one of the games three main factions: Demon Hunters, Mages, or Natives. Each of these groups have unique spells, and their addition allows you to lay down some serious destruction on your opponents, whether you’re summoning demon dogs to fight by your side or raining down fire. This also means that you’re finally afforded a few more options in combat, and while you’ll still be rolling your way out of trouble, you may just find yourself starting to glean a small amount of enjoyment out of your battles against the shadows.
There’s also a wide variety of other systems for you to tinker with, and whether you’re crafting your own potions and weapons, or taking on all comers in arm wrestling contests, you’ll be surprised by the activities that you come across as you explore. While these aren’t always the most original of diversions – the karma system seeming particularly pointless – you'll appreciate the volume of content that developer Piranha Bytes has crammed into the campaign, even if it might have been best to skip some of it in favour spending more time improving the combat and graphics.
The depth of content on offer in Risen 3: Titan Lords is deeper than Davy Jones’ Locker, and those looking to sink their teeth into a meaty RPG are unlikely to be disappointed on that front. The trouble is that the combat – that only gets vaguely enjoyable halfway through – and the atrocious graphics could well turn you off from the experience entirely. While this won’t put off those who managed to overlook the shortcomings of the previous two games, those looking to sign up for the first time on this voyage may want to seriously consider if the pirate life is for them.